ST. PAUL, Minn. – In this transitional season, new Minnesota Wild coach Todd Richards and his staff have relied on veteran Owen Nolan more than any other player.
His six goals are essentially a bonus. His experience and attitude are of the greatest value. Nolan’s goal with 67 seconds remaining, his second of the game, sent the Wild to a 3-2 comeback victory over the New York Islanders on Friday night. The oldest guy on the team also dived to block a shot during a penalty kill.
“He’s been a leader by example. It’s every day in practice,” said Richards, who declared the Wild’s last game, a 3-2 home loss to Phoenix, their worst performance of the season. “You ask the players to do things out on the ice, and he’s the first one doing it.”
Nolan had been dragged down in front of Islanders goalie Martin Biron on an earlier sequence and had just climbed back to his feet when the puck came his way from Eric Belanger in the closing minutes. The 37-year-old Nolan, known for his grittiness around the net, knocked it in for a late lead.
“It just caught me by surprise,” Biron said. “It hit the inside of my paddle, and after that I had no idea where it went.”
That gave a big lift to a team that was 0-2-2 in its previous four games and starting a stretch of four straight and six of seven at home.
“There’s lots of guys that get into that situation, and you rush it a little bit. Great composure,” Richards said.
Nolan also scored on a bad-angle shot from behind the goal line that glanced off Biron and into the net for just Minnesota’s 12th first-period goal in 22 games. Nolan credited James Sheppard for the setup on that one, noting Sheppard’s hard work in his first game on the wing while the injury-ravaged Wild played way short up front.
“It gives the young guys a great opportunity to step in and show what they’ve got. They have to bring the energy, and I thought they did a good job with that,” Nolan said.
Jon Sim had a goal and an assist and Josh Bailey scored for the Islanders, who lost in regulation for the first time in six games despite holding a 2-1 lead in the third period. Mikko Koivu tied it for Minnesota on a power play with 13:02 left.
Islanders coach Scott Gordon was upset by his team going 0-for-6 on the power play.
“I thought that we had some great chances that we just didn’t cash in on,” Gordon said. “If we cash in on them, point-blank opportunities, we’re not even talking about giving up a bad goal in the third.”
Biron, who made 26 saves, started in place of former Wild all-star Dwayne Roloson. The duo has held the net together well while Rick DiPietro is out indefinitely due to a knee injury.
“This game is the way it is sometimes,” Biron said. “You let some opportunities slip, and you lose these types of games.”
The Islanders, 3-1-2 in their last six games, are playing better after winning one of their first 10 games. This was their fifth stop on a stretch of seven straight road games, and they’re missing captain Doug Weight for another month because of an upper body injury.
“We’ve had a lot of good hockey,” Gordon said. “This was our first loss, and from my side of it it very well could’ve been a win.”
The Wild increased their intensity from Wednesday, registering 27 hits to New York’s nine. They were missing Martin Havlat (hamstring), one of five injured forwards on the roster, and Brent Burns (illness), their best offensive defenceman.
Richards feared another defeat after a failed 5-on-3 advantage by the Wild barely a minute after Sim tied the game 1-1, but Koivu’s goal on the power play gave Minnesota the momentum back, setting the stage for Nolan’s winner.
NOTES: Wild D Shane Hnidy mixed it up with New York’s Tim Jackman and was given 17 minutes of penalty time, two for instigating, five for fighting and 10 for a misconduct. … Nolan is one of several Wild players growing moustaches in support of a prostate cancer awareness and research project. … The Wild are 5-1-2 against the East and 8-12-2 overall. … Jackman and Islanders teammates Jack Hillen and Kyle Okposo are Minnesota natives. … D Brendan Witt (personal reasons) sat out for the second straight game for the Islanders.